The Texas Senate passed the “open carry” bill, SB 17, on second reading Monday evening after about three and a half hours of debate. The vote was on partisan lines, with the 20 Republican Senators voting in favor of the bill, and the 11 Democrats voting against it. The bill still needs to go to third reading before it will be deemed officially passed by the Senate.
The bill is, in essence, an expansion of the state’s current regulations for concealed handgun licenses (CHL). SB 17 would allow those who have qualified for a CHL to also carry a handgun openly, in a belt or shoulder holster. Current Texas law allows the open carry of long guns like shotguns and rifles. Some gun rights activists have advocated for “constitutional carry,” or allowing people to carry guns without the need for a license, but that approach was not adopted by Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), the author of the bill.
The partisan breakdown of the vote was consistent throughout the bill’s history. As Breitbart Texas reported, SB 17 passed the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee last month on a 7-2 vote on partisan lines. The two Democrats on the committee, Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), voted against the bill, and the Republicans voted for it: bill author Estes, Committee Chair Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), and Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown).
SB 17 was brought to the floor on a 20 to 11 vote, which would not have been sufficient under the old “two-thirds rule” threshold for the Senate to consider a bill, but that rule was changed to a “three-fifths rule” back in January, with the encouragement of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who had campaigned on making this procedural change.
During the debate on the bill, Estes mentioned that he had spent a lot of time thinking about the potential impacts of the bill. He said that he approached the day of public testimony with a “neutral” attitude, but after the eight or nine hours of testimony from both sides, he felt confident that Texas’ system for vetting CHL holders was successful.
About eight hundred thousand CHL licensees “have been vetted, have been trained, and I feel can be trusted” about whether or not to carry a gun, and how they would chose to carry, said Estes. “I believe in freedom,” he continued, and “I have great confidence in our license holders that they will do the right thing and exercise their freedoms in a very responsible way.” As Breitbart Texas reported, records maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety dating back to 1996 show that CHL holders make up less than one-half of one percent of criminal convictions.
A series of amendments were offered, the vast majority of which were rejected by Estes and then failed on a partisan vote. One amendment that was accepted and was passed was one by Zaffirini, to add training about retention tactics to the current training required for license holders. “This is a good reason why members request to have the amendments ahead of time,” commented Estes, apparently referring to a number of the last-minute amendments filed by Democratic Senators on Monday.
SB 17 will advance to third reading on Tuesday morning, where it is expected to pass with the same partisan vote breakdown.
The bill’s fate now lies with the House, where it will be discussed in the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, March 17, at 8:00 a.m. Central Time in room E2.014 at the Texas Capitol.
If open carry passes the House, Governor Greg Abbott has promised to sign it, reaffirming that commitment again this week, as Breitbart Texas reported.
Also being considered for debate on Tuesday in the Senate: SB 11, the campus carry bill, and SB 342, the constitutional carry bill. Breitbart Texas will continue to follow this gun rights legislation in both chambers of the Legislature.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.